Authors: Tracey Alvarez
Her heart gave a little bunny-hop at the thought and leaped around her ribs.
“Not unless you ask real nice.”
“Ask you?” There was that damn smirk of his again. She should’ve guessed he was playing with her. “When pigs fly.”
A muscle ticked in his jaw, but the smile didn’t falter. “Now you’ll have to say, ‘Please, Del. With a cherry on top.’”
“I’d jam that cherry up your nose before I’d kiss you, Hollywood. Get outta my face.”
His gaze dipped once to her mouth then flicked up. “I can’t go anywhere while you’re grabbing onto me.”
She pried her hand off his arm, and he obligingly stepped back.
What was she supposed to say now? Her brain had disintegrated to mush and her knee joints appeared to have transformed into Jello.
Del stood, hands shoved in the pockets of his running shorts—calm, unruffled, unreadable. They could’ve been discussing the next day’s menu or the weather forecast.
He’d been teasing.
So, get it together, girlfriend
. She blew out a slow breath and dredged up her most reasonable peace-making voice.
“I’ve given you the wrong impression. You’ve mistaken my friendliness for flirtation—”
“Friendly? You’d put a cleaver in my skull, given half a chance.”
Don’t give the cocky bastard the satisfaction. Just, don’t, do, it.
Shaye straightened to her full five-foot-seven height. “I’ve been cordial and respectful to you in the kitchen; I don’t owe you more than that.”
Del folded his arms. “Hmm.”
Which could mean any damn thing.
“You’ve never had to work with a man you’re attracted to, have you?” He asked, quirking an eyebrow at her.
Blood sizzled under her skin. “No. And it doesn’t apply in this situation.”
“Bullshit. We’ve been ready to burn the moment we stepped in that kitchen together.”
Shaye pushed away from the railing. “Not only are you a jerk, you’re a delusional, self-inflated jerk.”
“Ouch,” he said as she stalked away, her heels clicking on the pavement. “Denial doesn’t change the facts.”
Shaye raised her bent arm, the middle finger popping into a vertical position. The low chuckle behind her signaled nothing was wrong with his night vision.
A voice like melted dark chocolate, her butt. Shaye stomped around the corner of Due South and moved out of his sight.
The man was poison, pure and simple.
Lani swept into the kitchen, and Del glanced up. Friday night, the front of the house was slammed, all tables full, and they were headed into the weeds. Servers Lani, Charlie, and Helena were ordered to turn and burn the smaller tables, so the booked party of nine could be seated in thirty minutes.
“Need my soups, like yesterday. Table six is getting antsy,” Lani said.
“On it,” Shaye yelled.
Charlie, hot on Lani’s heals, blew in with yet another ticket. “One firehouse pizza, one fish ‘n chips hold the tartar sauce, and a ribeye that’s kissed the fire.”
“Add it to the stack.” Del shot a glance over his shoulder at Vince, who stood stationed at the grill. “Where’s table four’s grilled vege? Pump it out, let’s go.”
As his gaze swung back, it hesitated at the shelf where his little camera recorded the chaos. Thank God they were putting on a good show. With all the mini-disasters the camera’s indifferent eye had caught tonight, he’d have enough footage to get his audition clip ready to e-mail by tomorrow, at the latest.
Helena entered the kitchen at a run. “New bean and pasta for the salad bar, since some little shit just spit in both.” Though Helena was a co-parent with her partner, Sara, Del learned fast the woman had no patience for fools and bratty children.
Goddammit, two ruined salads? He finished plating table two’s mussel starters. “Eighty-six it—we haven’t got time to make more before the party of nine—”
“Got seven vegetarians in that party, Chef. They need salad.” Shaye swooped past him and grabbed a pot. “I’ll get water on for the pasta. Won’t take long to whip up a new batch.”
“Hell. Do it.”
She whirled around to the sink. Water splashed into the pot, and he smothered a grim smile. Helena’s report of a kid spitting into the salad would be gold on his audition. Ethan Ward wanted to see a restaurant failing without his experienced input? Well, he’d get some bang for his buck at Due South.
He slid the two plates onto the pass. “Table two’s entree, run it.”
Charlie snatched them up on the other side. “Dude, I’m running.”
Metal clanked behind him, and he whipped around to ask where the Wan Ton soups for table six were. He collided with someone, realizing who as Shaye screamed. His gaze shot to her hazel eyes, huge with pain and shock. Then down to the empty soup bowls. Her fingers flew open, and the bowls smashed to the floor.
“Oh, fuck. Sorry.”
Scalding-hot chicken broth soaked her pants.
Del lunged for her. Grabbing Shaye under the arms, he lifted her off her feet and strode to the long counter beside the sinks. She panted in his ear, her nails digging through the heavy cotton into his arms as he carefully seated her on the countertop. He snatched up the pull-out spray head, and with the other hand he fumbled to lift her chef’s jacket out of the way.
A world of embarrassment filled those two words.
No time for modesty. He aimed the spray head straight at her crotch and toggled the switch. The cold water hit, and she squealed like a cat with its tail caught in a door. Squirming, she slapped at him, trying to get away. Water ran down her legs, most streaming into the sink basin but a lot pattering onto the floor.
He moved between her knees, pinning them open with his body, terrified of touching anywhere she’d been burned. “Dammit, Shaye—stop fighting! Where does it hurt? Your thighs?”
She nodded. Moaned. “Left thigh.” Tears streamed from her eyes. “And hip.”
Cold water soaked through his crotch, but he kept the spray on target. Reaching between their bodies, Del hooked a finger over the stretchy waistband of her pants. “I have to tug these down to get the spray directly on the scald.”
Her gaze shot to his, her fingers scrabbling over his hand, trying to pull him away.
“No!” A harsh breath exploded out of her, then she rolled her lips in a moment, the pretty pinkness disappearing into a pale line. “The water—the water helps.” She gasped again. “Don’t need to take my pants off. Not that bad.”
Feet scuffed on the floor, and murmurs of his staff’s concern rose around them.
Without taking his gaze from Shaye, he shouted, “Lani—get out front—tell the customers there’ll be a delay. Everyone else—get back to work, and keep your eyes to yourself.”
He pulled on the right side of her pants, lowering the fabric to hip level. His balls contracted as cold water continued to snake down his pants and puddle on the floor.
“No,” Shaye hissed and yanked the pants up again.
“Enough!” His voice came out a low snarl. “You want me to get Fraser and Vince to hold you down?”
He sounded like a monster, but the thought of her skin blistering and burned—and he the one who’d bumped her—well, he wanted to punch something.
She blinked up at him, and he felt even more of a shit.
“I’m sorry.” He gentled his tone and released the thumb control so the water trickled instead of gushed. “It’s just me, okay? The jerk who wants to take care of you. Let me help.”
“All right.” She pushed down with her palms and lifted her butt, giving him access. “Panties stay on.”
“Deal.” He dropped the sprayer into the sink, gingerly hooked his fingers over her waistband, and drew the soaked fabric down.
Down over the smooth skin of her stomach, down to the unexpected cupcake tattoo on her right hipbone, down to white boy-short panties.
Wet, white boy-short panties.
He needed a smack upside the head for even daring to glance at them.
Del swallowed hard, finished wrestling her pants down to her knees, and forced his wayward brain to examine the red patches blooming on her otherwise pale skin. She had a small scald on her left hip, but the majority of the hot soup must’ve slopped onto her thigh. An angry rash spread across the front of her leg, but thank God, it hadn’t blistered.
A glance around revealed Fraser hovering at the kitchen doors, trying not to sneak glances but failing, and Vince glowering at the grill, muttering to himself. Del popped the domes on his jacket and wrenched it off. He snatched up the sprayer again and draped his jacket over the top, so it hid Shaye’s legs.
“Thank you, Del.”
Her quiet gratitude punched into him. It was the first time she’d said his name without mockery or distain. Why his name on her lips should coil around him like warm silk, he didn’t know.
“I’m going to keep the water running for at least ten minutes.” He aimed the sprayer again.
She arched and clutched his shoulder, thrusting her breasts forward.
Dear God, he was going straight to hell.
“Most of the soup went onto the floor.” She gritted between clenched teeth. “Bloody stings, but I don’t think it’s too serious.”
As she spoke, she looked past his shoulder. Couldn’t say he blamed her. The scalds must hurt like hell, considering she’d forgotten to take her hand off him.
He wasn’t complaining.
“I’m sorry this happened to you, princess.”
Shaye’s fingers dug in then sprang wide open and she dropped her hand to the countertop. “Not your fault. Forgot to yell out when I brought the soup to the pass—and I’m not an effing princess.”
“I’m sorry this happened to you…cupcake?”
She sucked in a breath, and her pretty hazel eyes clashed with his. “If my mother ever hears I have a tattoo, I will hunt you down like a feral dog. Are we clear?”
He grinned and shifted in his wet pants. Worth it to see her feeling okay. “Yes, Chef.”
“Good.” She laid her fingers over his. “I can do this now, thanks.” She made a shooing motion at him with her other hand.
He froze at her touch. The last few minutes, she hadn’t needed him holding the sprayer, let alone pressed up so close against her. “Ah, I’ll get the first aid—”
“Del? Shaye?” West’s voice came from the direction of the swinging doors, laden with pissiness and concern. “Lani said—holy fucking hell with all the saints in attendance.”
Del swung around and backed up, blocking his brother’s view of Shaye as best he could. If guilt hadn’t mostly ruined the image of her naked thighs spread wide, heaven covered by her modest but surprisingly sexy panties, she would’ve taken the top spot of his fantasy list. He could only imagine what the scene looked like to his big brother.
Caught with his hands between the sous chef’s thighs. Just awesome.
The hiss of water ceased, and the rustle of fabric being adjusted sounded from behind him.
“West, get outta here and go about your business,” Shaye said.
“You are my business. Lani said you got burned.” West scooted around the pass and gave Del a
what the hell did you do now
glare, tilting his neck for a better view.
Del angled his body sideways. Gave West a
don’t be a dick
glare right in return.
“It’s okay, I’m covered up.”
Del stepped aside, leaned a hip against the counter, and studied Shaye from the corner of his eye. Her face was flushed a pretty rose, and at some point her cap had tumbled off her head, but otherwise, if you ignored his soaked jacket covering her lap, she looked good. Better than good. Embarrassed, defiant, hotter-than-hell.
He wrenched his gaze away and prayed the cold, clingy denim would discourage any reaction in that area.
Shaye huffed out a sigh. “It’s just a scald, and I really,
don’t need any more
from a Westlake male.”
“Well, shit.” West jammed his hands on his hips. “Sure you don’t want me to take a look? A second opinion?”
“See, now, this is why I should talk Piper out of marrying you, you big pervert.”
“She knows I’m a pervert,” West said. “All men are perverts, given the opportunity.”
“Hah.” She tucked the jacket closer around her legs. “You want to help, get Denise to grab me a change of clothes from my room.”
“Done.” West turned to leave, but paused at the pass, giving them a loaded glance. “You sure you’re okay, Shaye?”
“I’d be better than okay if you could guarantee everyone won’t hear about this before the end of service.”
West grinned. “Won’t be from me, sweetheart.”
She turned to Del as West hurried out. “Think there’s some Aloe spray in the first aid kit. Top pantry shelf, remember?”
Del rummaged through cans and snatched up the first aid kit. He left the pantry, prying the lid off the container while he walked. Shaye sat rigid on the countertop, arms banded across her chest, her eyes focused on the high shelf opposite. Like a hound dog scenting.